Baptism of Jesus Christ
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18. Baptism of Jesus Christ

The Philippian Jailer

WavesThere are two "dominical sacraments," meaning "of the Lord" or "given by the Lord." These are Baptism and Holy Communion. Baptism is the Early Church's practice of "immersing in the water" or "sprinkling with water," the new believer. We see this in the Ethiopian eunuch's baptism by Philip and the Philippian jailer's entire family's baptism. Jesus himself commands baptism as one of two dominical sacraments. Different denominations have different views as to how they should perform a baptism. Baptists practice believers' baptism of an adult by full immersion. In contrast, Anglicans and Roman Catholics conduct infant baptism generally by the sprinkling of either a baby, an infant, or even an adult from a font. Some denominations practice immersion as well as sprinkling.

Which Kind of Baptism?

Water of BaptismIn my opinion, there is no essential difference between the two forms of baptism except for the role of the godparents in infant baptism. In mainline churches such as The Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches, godparents make a solemn promise to lead the child to faith as they grow into adult life. Then they can make their own decision for Christ at a Confirmation Service. Baptism in the Early Church was, I believe, initially carried out for all believing adults as well as their infants and children. The whole household, in the case of the Philippian jailor, is baptized. Later, during the first and second centuries, it becomes the norm for parents to baptize their infants and babies. Remember that society in early times was dominated by patriarchs who controlled every aspect of their families and slaves. The head of the household, therefore, decided the household religion and their baptism. Baptism included every member of the Household. It is only fair to say there are almost certainly different practices among various groups of Christians around the Roman Empire at the same time. Acts 16.33 speaks of the Philippian jailor that when he believes in Christ, "he and all his family were immediately baptized." The jailor's family would certainly have included all ages of people, including grandparents, teenagers, servants, slaves, and even relatives in his home. Other infants and babies would have been under the head of the household's control and authority. The Holy Spirit comes especially at baptism, as on many other occasions in our lives, to bless us.✞

Refreshing Water

The sacramental water of baptism hides beneath its ripples the flowing blessing of God through the Spirit's work. It is a surprising and incomprehensible truth. The Holy Spirit's work brings about the renewal and development of every atom of all creation and repeats this constantly and invisibly for all life forms. The Holy Spirit's work enlivens all creation and engineers the rejuvenation of plant and animal life. Without the Spirit's work, all creation would stop cold and dead in an instant. Behind the "mother nature" smoke screen propagated by our secular society moves the real Holy Spirit worker. Mother nature never created a good harvest or a fall of rain. As the hymn says, "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all."

Water Water!

Amazon RiverThere is a story of a boat adrift off the South American coast. The crew was dying of thirst. Another ship appears and hails it asking if there was anything the crew needed. The sailors shout back, "Water, water!" The sailors on the second ship point over the side at the water. All around them was the mighty Amazon River freshwater, which poured out many miles into the saltwater ocean. Nourishing fresh water was available, but they were still dying of thirst. They did not know of the thirst-quenching stream. In the same way, the Holy Spirit's work is all around us, invisibly creating and renewing both us and our environment without us scarcely realizing it.✞

Inward Invisible Grace

Baptism is known as a sacrament. When we look closely enough, we find the Body of Christ beneath the surface of many seemingly mundane objects, such as water, bread, wine, and even a wooden cross. The term "Body of Christ" is used in two different senses in the New Testament. It may refer to Jesus' statement in Luke 22.19-20 at The Last Supper that "he (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.' We may note here that some manuscripts do not have "given for you" or "poured out for you," though it makes little difference to the meaning. The words "the Body of Christ" may also refer to the Christian Church as referenced by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.27, where he writes, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Here Saint Paul is explaining to Christians that they are, in some respects, the "outward and visible signs of inward invisible grace," and hence they are also sacraments. There may be different interpretations by various denominations and churches of the meaning of "bread and wine," but these are minor in the overall scheme of things. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), a prominent early Christian theologian, wrote in Sermon 262, "Christians are to see in the many grains, ground by the prayers of exorcism, moistened by the waters of baptism, and now united in the one Eucharistic loaf, the image of themselves as the Body of Christ, the Church." Saint Augustine had a very novel way of combining the various sacraments into one statement of belief.

New Testament Importance

Infant baptismThe sacramental Body of Christ in all its forms has immense importance for the New Testament church. At the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, it is also a porthole into God's being. It is a bringer of divine grace, which is the undeserved gift of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. When rediscovered, these sacramental models will provide what we now call "The Church" with a deep and inspirational understanding of the Mystical Body without leading us into superstitions and heresies. Holy Spirit baptism means being born of water, followed by baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both are outward signs and visible signs of the inner holy life in an independent human being. John 3.5 says, "Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." "Born of water" is here variously understood as baptism in water or by others as the waters that break from the "amniotic fluid sac" for nine months, which is the "birth waters." There is about one liter of amniotic fluid at birth when the woman's waters break. Amniotic fluids are mostly electrolytes, but later in the cycle also contains proteins and other compounds to aid in the fetus's growth. For some Christians, "born of the water" means being born in the birth waters and later born of the Spirit. "Born of the Spirit" may mean being given new life from the Holy Spirit at birth or for other Christians being converted later as an adult by an act of the Holy Spirit, sometimes accompanied by speaking in tongues. The Christian church considers Baptism in water either by total immersion or by sprinkling as a requirement for every disciple of Christ.

Water and Spirit Birth

New Born's Foot in Mothers HandBirth can be viewed as the initiation of the human body into human life, just as baptism is the mark of the soul's entry into the Christian life. The breaking of the waters signifies the change from a dependent fetus to an independent human being, from one entity in the mother to two separate existences outside of her. Holy Spirit baptism similarly witnesses the spiritual step from darkness into light. At birth, a person unceremoniously launches into human existence. At Holy Spirit baptism, a person ceremonially plunges into the community of the Body of Christ. What is the Holy Spirit's role at baptism? Does baptism mark the beginning of a person's ministry as it did for Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove? In Mark 1.8, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus "will baptize you with (or "in") the Holy Spirit." In John 1.33, John the Baptist says, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit."

Jesus' Baptism

In Matthew 3.11, John the Baptist says, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." In Luke 3.16, John the Baptist also declares, "I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Jesus was the first person to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

"Baptism of Jesus Christ"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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